Too often I hear landscapers and gardeners talk about how short-lived English lavender is as a garden plant. After growing it for almost 15 years in my home garden and visiting / interviewing a number of growers and lavender farms, I have to say that it can look gorgeous in your garden for a whole lot longer, with just a bit or care. Harvesting English lavender plants helps you enjoy healthier plants for longer, and gives you a whole lot of gorgeous lavender to work with.
Lavender is by far my very favorite scent. I love it fresh when the plants are in bloom, as it dries around the garden, in sachets tucked into my pillow at night, or as bath salts when I soak away the aches of the gardening day. This magical herb is said to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and even soothe an achy head. Oh, and the bees and butterflies love it too. We can’t forget the pollinators.
How to Harvest English Lavender Plants
Harvesting English lavender is a great way to tidy up unruly plants and will give you a whole bunch of inspiration for projects throughout the year. There is a proper way and ideal time to cut lavender flowers that is best for both the dried flowers and the plants.
English Vs. French Vs. Spanish Lavender
Lavender is commonly grouped into English lavender, French lavender, or Spanish Lavender, but the common names can become quite confusing as they can refer to a number of different lavender varieties. The best way to differentiate them comes from separating Lavandula angustifolia and L. x intermedia, plants that have delicate flowers and long stems that soar above the woody evergreen plant, from Lavandula stoechas with its showy hat of butterfly-like bracts on a perennial shrub. English Lavender is the common name for L. angustifolia and a hybrid of L. angustifolia is L. x intermedia which I have seen called both English and French lavender.
In any case, this guide is for harvesting L. angustifolia and L. x intermedia, which are the varieties most often cultivated for culinary, craft, and medicinal properties. Read more about growing and propagating lavender in this article: The Essential Guide to Growing Lavender.
When to Harvest English Lavender
The best time to harvest English lavender is when the buds have formed on the plant but the flowers have not yet opened. Lavender flowers harvested at this time of year will fall off the stems more easily when dry, making it easier to collect. Closed buds will also retain fragrance and color longer. The image on the left has fully-formed closed buds. The middle image has a mix of open and closed buds. The image on the right has fully open flowers, some of which are finished blooming. Choose buds that look like the left image.
The Best Lavender for Drying
The cultivar of your lavender will also determine fragrance, color, and longevity of the dried stems as well. ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ English lavender varieties are noted by many to be the best for drying (L. angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ and L. angustifolia ‘Munstead’). I really love ‘Thumbelina’ for producing a bounty of small, deep purple flowers that hold colour really well. I should also add that after visiting a ton of growers and farms, they all seem to have developed cultivars that work best for them. If you can, I highly recommend visiting a lavender farm, asking some questions, and buying your garden plants from them. They will certainly have some gems that will perform best in your garden.
To harvest English lavender, use sharp bypass pruners and gather a small handful of long flower stems. Be sure that you are leaving behind at least two sets of leaves on the green part of the stem. If you cut all the way back to the woody part of the stem, that stem will not regrow. I like to be generous and leave at least 3-4 sets of leaves on the plant, then go back and prune it to two sets of leaves on the green stem. This ensures that I’m not damaging the plant that gives me all these beautiful flowers! Continue collecting stems in your hand until you have a nice sized bundle. Secure the bundle with twine and continue until the plant is fully harvested.
Pruning the plants like this will keep the shrub tidy and evergreen through some colder climates. If your plants are leggy and you see lots of dead wood, it’s a good idea to summer prune them each year until they regain a tidier shape. You can safely prune lavender plants twice in the growing season to help define and maintain their shape.
Dry lavender bunches by hanging them in a warm, dry spot, out of direct sunlight. Under eaves, in the garage, or somewhere in the garden that is protected is ideal. My herb dryer is an old painting ladder outfitted with some hooks for the twine. But I have also dried lavender along a shady fence and made it into a dried lavender wreath. Adding some drying lavender around your home will make it smell heavenly. I highly recommend it.
After 2-4 weeks when the lavender has fully dried, you can shake or gently rub the lavender buds into a tray or bowl. Store lavender in a lidded jar in a cool dark place and repeat next year.
In case you are wondering what to do with your bounty of fresh herbs, check out these DIY projects and recipes featuring this star of the garden.
- Lavender Soda + Lavender Syrup + Lavender Lemonade
- Blackberry-Lavender Soda
- Easy Infused Sugar Recipes
- Dried Lavender Wreath
- Serenity Now! DIY Lavender Eye Pillows
- Lavender Dryer Bags
- Lavender Linen Water Recipe and Printable Label
- If This Doesn’t Help You Sleep I Don’t Know What Will!
- Herbal Dream Pillows: Aromatherapy for the Restful Sleep You Need
- DIY Plantable Seed Paper = Valentine’s Day Cards
- Lavender Sachets
Lavender Skin Care
- Lavender + Marshmallow Root Homemade Conditioner for Dry Hair
- All-Natural Rose and Lavender Spray Deodorant Recipe
- Lavender and Oatmeal Tub Teas
- Tub Tea Time!
- Healing Cuticle Balm Recipe
- Gardener’s Herbal Foot Soak Recipe
- Cold-Process All-Natural Handmade Soap
- Lovely Lavender Ombre Melt and Pour Soap
- Gorgeous Lavender Oatmeal Soap Cupcakes (that Anyone can Make)
- Lavender and Cocoa Butter Bath Melts
- Infused Herbal Oils
- Herbal Roll-on Remedies for Headache, Sleep, and Cold & Flu
- Insect Bite Roll-On Remedy